Struggles of a Part-time Homeschooler

These past few days, my cousin and I have been emailing each other about my thesis proposal.  She gave very useful constructive criticism that helped clarify my thoughts. Bouncing off ideas with her felt like a mini-thesis defense, a challenge and opportunity I appreciated.

When I first designed the round the world route, it was quite complex and would probably take much more than one year.  The original idea was to take an entire year off and cover as many continents but as I computed the distances, it got scary long so I simplified the route.  When I started combining the original idea with the PhD concept, I further cut the trip into more manageable parts.  After several email messages with my cousin, I couldn’t sleep and further edited the map on the power point.  Talking about the project really helps me focus on the essential.

 
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The route has changed dramatically, I don’t know if it’s still appropriate to call it drive around the world!

 
I’d like to thank my cousin for another thing and that is raising my awareness about other parts of the thesis that need my attention.  I’ve been spending so much time on books that support the theoretical framework and reading about alternative schools that I haven’t given as much thought to the roadschooling part that I’d be doing with my own children.  I figured it would be natural when we start our journey plus doing the more academic non-personal parts of the thesis seems easier.  However, roadschooling requires a lot of preparation as well.  With the revised route, the overall plan would now combine a lot of home-based and/or place-based schooling with roadschooling while incorporating ideas from unschooling.

 
More than two years ago, I attended the TMA homeschooling orientation in Manila, anticipating that I seriously must supplement my children’s education because they are attending a Chinese school with almost zero English classes. I enjoy teaching university students but teaching children is another ballgame I prefer not to play if there is somebody qualified and willing, but I’m left with no choice.

During my last trip to Manila this February, I buckled down looking for curriculum, checking out various local homeschool providers like The Master’s Academy (TMA), Victory, Catholic Filipino Academy as well as those online. Flipping through most curriculum, nothing resonated with me except for a few online which were too expensive.  I thought maybe I’ll do my own mix and match, add a dash of unschooling and voila- it’s called independent homeschooling that doesn’t necessitate a provider.

Before going back to China, I did purchase workbooks from TMA and National Bookstore.  Most of the pages frustrated both Joshua and me.  The agony of filling them up was like pulling our teeth.   I didn’t have the patience and hated seeing Joshua miserable so I decided to stop and switched to the Star Wars workbooks from Singapore.  I also made Star Wars, Ninjago and Minions flash cards in power point but that lost its novelty after a few tries.  I altered the flashcards to include sentences but that also failed to hold Joshua’s interest.  What did hold his attention more was if I let him choose the pictures on Google images and make the sentences himself as I typed them on my laptop.  Any practice is good practice.

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When my cousin kept asking about the roadschooling portion of the study and after being inspired by the Wand’rly web magazine she sent, I got the courage to revisit the TMA workbooks this time with renewed resolve to be more patient.  I applied the diligence on my thesis to researching methods on teaching how to read.   For instance, I’d ask Joshua to tell me about what he did during his last trip to the desert while I wrote down the sentences in his notebook.  After that, he copied the sentences.

The second time around with the TMA workbooks, I’m gaining more patience to go through the pages and this gain is interestingly echoed by Joshua being able to finish more pages with less resistance.  A matter of stick-to-it-tiveness pulls us through.

As much as I am attracted to the philosophy behind unschooling, I can’t totally let go of a planned curriculum now because my children don’t know how to read yet.  If they knew, it would be very convenient to offer them books in their areas of interest but until they read I’d be on pins and needles looking for effective methods.  Jimmy’s heavy into the Leap Frog phonics songs but Joshua is not.  But because Jimmy sings it all the time, Joshua inadvertently joins him.   I also discovered there was a debate between phonics and sight words and that it’s probably best to combine both and ultimately find what works for you.

Patience and more patience, slowly but surely and all that in-it’s-time jazz.  I should apply the same rigor and obsession with the thesis proposal to teaching my kids to read.  I switched to reading kindle books relevant to the latter.

“Mostly we teach by who we are and how we live.  Our own development and that of our children are intertwined – we grow together.” Tobin Hart, The Secret Spiritual World of Children

“It is important to be as committed to the development of your own inner life as you are to your child’s inner life. . . . . Although this book is filled with creative ideas and suggestions for developing your child’s inner strength, your presence is actually more important than the activities themselves.  Your child will learn best through your example and modeling.”  Linda Lantieri with Daniel Goleman, Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children

I’m afraid my presence has been half-hearted at times, shooing my kids away because I’m finishing something related to my teaching work or my thesis.  I’m afraid I haven’t been a good example and model when I lose my patience and composure.  I’m afraid I’ve scared Joshua when I got angry because he couldn’t remember what he read a minute or two previously.  There were times when I sounded like a barking dog.

So developing my inner peace and patience seems ultimately paramount now.  Before sitting down with them, I have to fix my head.

“When children construct their own knowledge, they need a guide to help them, not an all-knowing authority.  The best guides are genuinely learners themselves.  When you help children nurture their inner lives, you expand your own inner pathways of knowing at the same time. . . .  Your role in this work, then, is simply to be willing to learn alongside your child and to help create a fertile ground for that learning.” Linda Lantieri

Yesterday, I made a breakthrough.  We got through the workbooks singing, laughing, making faces and tickling each other!

That afternoon, I had a long chat with the mother of Joshua’s classmate while our kids were playing outside the kindergarten.  We compared notes on teaching reading.  She told me about how much she reduced teaching her son Chinese characters from five characters a day to two characters a week saying that it’s less of a struggle for both of them.  She told me not to be “zhaoji.”  “Zhaoji” is the Chinese word for worry but it means more than worrying; it means being in a rush to accomplish something.

I often burst into theatricality when I’m with my university students but I’m serious when I do the workbooks with my boys probably more out of insecurity and wanting rather desperately to appear like a strict disciplinarian.  But yesterday, I was able to relax maybe because those readings on mindfulness stuck coupled with the words from my friend.  Plus, I started the day with a walking prayer for patience.

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2 thoughts on “Struggles of a Part-time Homeschooler

  1. Don’t get pulled into sight word vs phonics debate. Literacy begins with falling in love with story. Then kids learn that every letter makes a sound. (And later, that some letters make more than one sound!). this helps kids learn to decode–and if they can decode, they can read almost anything.

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    1. Hi Vickie, I only saw your comment now. I’m new to this blog. Thanks for your advice. My problem is he has to take a test so I have these workbooks that he has to go through. I want to do it naturally and wait for him to decode but on the other hand, there’s the looming test.

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